Over the past 10 years, Albert Park Baptist Church has welcomed many people from the Latin American community into their congregation. Around four years ago, they intentionally started cultivating this community, offering the Alpha program in both Spanish and English to serve Latin American students as they first arrive in Australia. With the departure of the church’s senior pastor in 2019, the church was able to convert the manse into an international student house with dedicated houseparents. The mission of this house was to help students as they settled in Melbourne, cultivating an ‘Australian family’ for them. It has also served as a home base for many international South American students and has hosted events, studies and meals.
When COVID-19 hit earlier this year, many of the borders in South America closed and international students found themselves stranded in Australia with no work and ineligible for government assistance. The house parents and students in the house quickly responded by planning a small grocery handout from the back garden of the manse. The popularity of this event soon grew with more than 150 people registering for grocery packs. These hand-outs now take place every three weeks from the church hall. While the church’s doors have been shut for worship services under government guidelines, the church is still very much open, yet looks more like a supermarket than a traditional place of worship! As Kat Mattila (Associate Pastor) says: “We are encouraged that Jesus is still using our building to serve His Kingdom and wholeheartedly love our community.”
This program is made possible because of the volunteers – most are from the Latin American student community. Many of the volunteers are out of work during this time, and this program has given them a sense of purpose and community. The church has also been encouraged to have many surrounding neighbours generously offer their time to volunteer. Funding of the grocery handouts is made possible by the generous monetary donation from those in the church community, with support from Foodbank, Fareshare and the Fr. Bob Mcguire Foundation.
The program currently serves 160 households on the grocery days and provides non-perishable relief packs in between these days to a further 20-30 households.
Kat comments, “Often in churches, we plan and strategise at a leadership level of how to serve best and reach out to the communities we belong to. This food program has been a wonderful example to us of how our church congregation saw a need and met it without instigation from the leadership. It has been a blessing to empower and support our volunteers as they serve and spread the love of God in such practical ways. Please pray for us over the coming months as we continue to run this new program and iron out any kinks. We would appreciate ongoing prayer for international students and hospitality workers who have been hit especially hard by this lockdown.”